The first time I made peas in this French style, it was love at first bite. I sometimes forget that other people don’t always make their peas this way because it’s just so darn delicious. In my culinary classes, years ago, these French Style Peas were just referred to as Petit Pois or Petit Pois aux Lardon. Which always sounded a bit fancy for a side dish that’s so humble, rustic, and comforting. If you have access to them, fresh peas are lovely in this recipe. But most of the year I use frozen or canned peas, and it’s still fantastic. Through the quarantine, we’ve eaten these a lot, since we have a bunch of canned peas. And as the spring revved up we actually got some fresh ones! I think the combination of flavours and the addition of bacon makes any type of peas elegant.Jump to Recipe
So much of French cuisine is based in rustic country cooking. Even when the recipes have been elevated to the most fancy level of haute cuisine, at their root they are the same as your grandma would make. If of course your grandma lived in the French countryside. In Europe, the people do still tend to eat more seasonally than we do here in North America. But more and more Canadians and Americans are learning to eat seasonally.
Peas are one of the quintessential spring foods. And so, oddly enough, is bacon. When meat is eaten seasonally, and before the time of refrigeration, only cured meats would be left by the spring. All fresh meats would have been eaten throughout the winter. And the rest was turned into sausages, ham or bacon, in order to last the remainder of the cold months. That’s why it’s traditional to eat ham at Easter. So adding bacon to your fresh spring peas would have been a no brainer.
If you are lucky enough to have a butcher who’s near you and open right now, try to use some really high quality, thick cut bacon. Or to be a little fancy and different you can also buy chunks of unsmoked pork belly and roast them. That way you could add whatever seasoning you’d like, or smoke it on your BBQ!
Different Mushroom Options (For the foragers out there)
The chefs that I’ve worked with in the past also added mushrooms to their peas. And this addition was A-OK with me! Foraging for spring mushrooms is a very fun adventure if you’ve never tried before. Across most of the Northern USA, and Southern Canada morels are bursting out from the leaf litter on the edge of forests at this time of year. If you want to give foraging a try there are a lot of sites you can go to to see what’s in season in your area, and how to find them. (Field & Stream: A Beginners Guide to Hunting Morel Mushrooms, Fungi Ally: Where to Find Morel Mushrooms Throughout the US, and Untamed Feast: Everything you Ever Wanted to Know About Morel Mushrooms)
There are plenty of farmers markets that will have fresh morels available in the early spring. But since we are all in quarantine at the moment, you can find dry morels at most grocery stores, or online. You can also simply use any variety of mushroom you like. They are all tasty alongside these peas! For today’s version of the recipe, I’m using cremini mushrooms since they’re available at most grocery stores. Or through delivery grocery services.
French Style Peas
- 4 Thick Slices of good Quality Bacon
- 2 Tbsps Butter Unsalted or Salted is fine. If using salted then taste test before seasoning with more salt.
- 1 Large Shallot, OR half a red onion About 1/2 a cup, finely diced
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 350 g Cremini Mushrooms Morels or Any variety you like/have is good
- 1/2 tsp Chili Flakes Optional, but delicious.
- 4 cups Peas Fresh, Frozen or Canned
- 2 Tbsps Fresh Basil, finely chopped or 2 tsps dried
- Salt and Pepper to Taste
- Slice the bacon into 1/4 inch chunks. Finely dice the shallot and garlic, and slice the mushrooms.
- If using fresh peas, bring a large pot of salted water up to a boil while you're cooking the other ingredients. The peas are the last thing to be added so having the water ready when you are is important.
- If using frozen peas, thaw them out partially in the microwave. And if using canned peas, drain and rinse them, then set them aside.
- Heat a large heavy bottom skillet over medium low heat. Add the bacon and cook to your desired doneness. Drain in paper towel and set aside.
- Pour off all but 1 Tbsp of the bacon fat. Add in the 2 Tbsps of butter, followed by the shallot, garlic, and mushrooms. Mushrooms absorb cooking fat fast, so it's important to use enough even though it might seem like a lot. Cook gently, stirring frequently until the mushrooms have released their liquid and have taken on a nice golden brown colour around the edges. The shallots and garlic should be caramel coloured.
- When the mushrooms are nearly done, cook your fresh peas in the boiling water for about 5 minutes. Immediately drain and add the peas into the pan with the mushrooms, shallots, and garlic. Add the chili flakes if using. Lower the heat. With frozen or canned peas, simply add them when the mushrooms are done.
- Add the bacon back to the pan and stir for another couple minutes to let all the flavours come together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove from the heat and stir through the basil right before serving.